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Documents & Records

General Register of Chinese Immigration

Basics

The General Register of Chinese Immigration is a very important resource for Chinese-Canadian genealogical research.

The register was created in Ottawa, and was based on records submitted by immigration officials at various ports. It spans the period from 1885-1949, and theoretically lists all immigrants of Chinese ancestry who arrived in Canada during that period. There are some entries for arrivals dating back as early as 1860.

Although the Register is sometimes known as the "head tax" records, not every individual documented in the registers paid head tax. In some cases, Chinese migrants were travelling through Canada to an onward destination, or returning following an absence and therefore not required to pay.

In total, this series of records includes eighteen ledgers documenting the arrival of about 97,000 immigrants. The records are arranged in numerical order, based on a Serial Number assigned by Ottawa.

The records are also in rough chronological order according to the year of the immigrants' arrival in Canada. Since the General Register was derived from port registers submitted by immigration officials at various ports of entry, sometimes the register from one port was entered into the General Register before that of another port with records compiled at earlier dates but not received by Ottawa until later. The records are similarly in rough order, by the declaration number assigned at the port and the number of any certificate that was issued, such as the head tax receipt.

Detailed information was recorded about each individual. Column numbers and headings used in the General Register varied slightly over time but the following, from 1885, is typical:

Serial No.
2.   Port No. of Statement and Declaration
3.   Names
4.   Port or Place Where Registered
5.   Date of Registration
Certificate Issued
6.   C.I. 5
7.   C.I. 6
8.   Fee Paid - Amount
9.   Sex
10.   Age
Place of Birth
11.   City or Village
12.   District
13.   Province &c.

14.   Title, Official Rank, Profession or Occupation
15.   Last Place of Domicile

Arrival in Canada
16.   Port or Place of
17.    Name of Vessel, Railway or Other Conveyance
18.    Date of
19.   Physical Marks or Peculiaries
20.   Remarks

Beginning February 2, 1910, the "Remarks" column included a new heading, "Expects to reside in". From this date in the record each entry in the register indicates the immigrant's intended eventual destination in Canada.

Researchers must keep in mind that entries in the General Register of Chinese Immigration were created by federal officials, who were unfamiliar with Chinese names, and probably wrote them down simply as they heard them. Moreoever, film quality is sometimes poor, making the records difficult to read.

For more details see the archival inventory description of the General Register of Chinese Immigration in the General Inventory on the Library and Archives Canada website.

Finding the Records

The best way to find an individual record in the General Register is to refer to the date that appears on the C.I.5 receipt, issued when the head tax was paid. The certificate number and declaration number, both of which appear on the head tax receipt, also provide useful clues. However, the Serial Number assigned by Ottawa to each record and which governs their order does NOT appear on the head tax receipt. For more information on certificates issued by the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, see Chinese Immigration Certificates.

If you don't have a head tax receipt, the only way to find a record is to review entries in the General Register one by one. This is because there is no index. It is very helpful if you know the date that the person arrived in Canada. If you have the year and if possible the month, it can narrow your search considerably, since the records are in rough chronological order.

At the Vancouver Public Library

The General Register of Chinese Immigration has been microfilmed by the Library and Archives Canada and is on 7 reels of microfilm, which are available at the Vancouver Public Library.

Records are arranged on the films in rough chronological order. There are two series of films, C-9510 to C-9513 (4 reels) and T-3484 to T-3486 (3 reels). Sections are less clearly delineated in the "T" series.

The following film notes may be helpful:

C-Series

C-9510

Record numbers Dates Notes
Nos. 1 - 4950 (RG 76 Vol. 694) September 1, 1885 - August 2, 1889  
Nos. 4951 - 9975 (RG 76 Vol. 695) August 2, 1889 - July 2, 1891  
Nos. 9976 - 13125 (RG 76 Vol. 696) July 2, 1891 - April [26], 1892 The title card for the final section indicates that records up to No. 14950 are included. However, the sequence is broken at 13,125, and continues on film C-9511.

C-9511

Record numbers Dates Notes
Nos. 9976 - 14950 (RG 76 Vol. 696) April [26], 1892 - October 31, 1892 The title card for this section indicates that record Nos. 9976 - 14950 are included. However, the records on this reel actually begin with 13101. The first section of RG 76 Vol. 696 (Nos. 9976-13125) is on reel C-9510.
 
The first page of entries (Nos. 13101-13125) are a duplicate of the last page of entries on film C-9510.
Nos. 14951 - 18725 (RG 76 Vol. 697) November 22, 1892 - September 26, 1894  
Nos. 18726 - 22500 (RG 76 Vol. 698) September 26, 1894 - September 23, 1896  
Nos. 22501 - 26275 (RG 76 Vol. 699) September 23, 1896 - June 18, 1898  
Nos. 26276 - 27225 (RG 76 Vol. 700) June 18, 1898 - September 21, 1898 The title card for this section indicates that records up to No. 31225 are included. However, the sequence is broken at No. 27225 and continues on film C-9512.

C-9512

Record numbers Dates  
Nos. 27201 - 31225 (RG 76 Vol. 700) September 21, 1898 - August 9, 1899 The title card for this section indicates that record Nos. 26276-31225 are included. However, the records on this reel begin with No. 27201. The first section of RG 76 Vol. 700 (Nos. 26276-27225) is on reel C-9511.
 
The first page of entries (Nos. 27201-27225) is a duplicate of the last page of entries on film C-9511.
Nos. 41251 - 46275 (RG 76 Vol. 703) June 25, 1902 - June 24, 1903 These records were apparently filmed out of order at this point in the sequence. The title card says that this section includes record Nos. 31336-36250 (RG 76 Vol. 701). However, the records that follow have a completely different sequence of numbers (as indicated above). Records 31336 - 36250 are on film C-9513.
Nos. 36251-41250 (RG 76 Vol. 702) October 17, 1900 - June 25, 1902  

C-9513

Record numbers Dates  
Nos. 31226 - 36350 (RG 76 Vol. 701) August 9, 1899 - October 10, 1900 See notes for film C-9512. These records were apparently missed in filming and therefore appear out-of-sequence.
 
The title card says that this section includes record Nos. 41251-46275 (RG 76 Vol. 703. However, the records that follow have a completely different sequence of numbers (as indicated above). Records 41251-46275 are on reel C-9512.

T-Series

Films in the "T" series include several pages of retakes. Retakes immediately follow originals and are clearly indicated.

T-3484

Record numbers Dates  
Nos. 46276-51275
(Ledger 11)
June 24, 1903 -
December 27, 1903
 
Nos. 51276-56725
(Ledger 12)
December 27, 1903 -
May 1, 1909
 
Nos. 56276-63275
(Ledger 13)
May 1, 1909 -
February 9, 1911
Beginning with record No. 58051 (February 2, 1911), the "Remarks" column includes a new heading "Expects to reside in." From this date, records indicate the immigrant's eventual destination in Canada.
 
This ledger continues on
T-3485.

T-3485

Record numbers Dates  
Nos. 63276-63850
(Ledger 13)
February 18, 1911 - April 14, 1911  
Nos. 63851-71150
(Ledger 14)
April 14, 1911 - May 11, 1912  
Nos. 71151-78600
(Ledger 15)
May 11, 1912 - May 11, 1913  
Nos. 78601-83250
(Ledger 16)
May 11, 1913 - March 8, 1914 Record Nos. 83251-86075 of ledger 16 are on reel T-3486.

T-3486

Following the final portion of the General Register, this film contains the C.I.28 Register and part of the C.I.36 Register.

Record numbers Dates  
Nos. 83226-86075
(Ledger 16)
March 8, 1914 - April 1, 1918 Continues reel T-3485.
Nos. 86076-93600
(Ledger 17)
April 2, 1918 - May 11, 1921  
Nos. 93601-97114
(Ledger 18)
May 11, 1921- September 29, 1949  

Online

Library and Archives Canada has digitized and created a searchable online index to the General Registers of Chinese Immigration in its Immigrants from China database

Photo banner: Detail from VPL Historical Photograph 8584